In this article, we will discuss...
- what causes stuttering or stammering,
- the available treatments to manage stuttering, and
- strategies to try at home or help your loved one.
What is Stuttering or Stammering?
Stuttering, also known as stammering, is a speech disorder characterized by the repetition of sounds and abnormal pauses in their flow of speech. People who stutter often repeat the first sound or syllable of a word multiple times when speaking (e.g., “m-m-my name is…”). Other common symptoms include prolongation of sounds, blocks (inability to produce any sound), and interjections such as “um” and “uh”.
Stuttering can impair communication and cause feelings of shame, anxiety, and frustration for those who suffer from it. It can also lead to social isolation, depression, low self-esteem and more.
Causes of Stuttering or Stammering
Some of the common causes of stuttering include:
- Genetics: Studies have found that stuttering tends to run in families, and certain genes may increase the risk of developing stuttering.
- Neurological factors: Neurological conditions, such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease can affect the brain’s ability to control speech.
- Developmental factors: Stuttering can often develop in childhood, typically between the ages of 2 and 6. During this time, children are still undergoing language and speech development. Some children may experience developmental delays in speech and language, which can lead to stuttering.
- Environmental factors: Stressful or traumatic events can also contribute to stuttering. For example, a child who experiences a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or a death in the family, may develop stuttering as a result.
- Emotional factors: Social anxieties, fear, and self-consciousness can worsen stuttering. Stuttering can also cause emotional distress, which can create a vicious cycle of increased anxiety levels and stuttering.
Do note that some people may experience only mild stuttering while others may suffer from extreme cases that can make communicating difficult. No matter how severe the symptom may be, it’s important to seek professional help from a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) if you think you or your loved one might be struggling from this condition.
Treatment Options for Stuttering or Stammering
Treatment can vary depending on each individual case. Generally, a combination of behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and other medical interventions are used to help reduce the symptoms.
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to reduce tension or muscle spasms that contribute to stuttering or stammering. Additionally, there are many assistive technologies available that can help people with this condition communicate more effectively. These include voice recognition software and text-to-speech devices which allow users to type out their thoughts before speaking them aloud.
Working with a Speech Pathologist can help you identify treatments that will be most effective in reducing stutters.
Speech therapy is an effective treatment option that aims to reduce the frequency and severity of stutters by teaching relaxation techniques, how to slow down speech rate, practicing new speech patterns, using breathing exercises to control tension in the body, etc.
Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are healthcare professionals who specialize in the evaluation and treatment of speech, language, and swallowing disorders. They use evidence-based methods to assess an individual’s communication abilities and develop personalized strategies for improvement. Speech therapists work with different ages and also provide guidance to families as they learn how to cope with a loved one’s language disorder.
Other Strategies That Might Help You
To complement speech therapy, there are several other effective ways to manage stuttering and improve communication skills, including:
One exercise to try is “slow stretching,” where you stretch out the first sound of each word. For example, instead of saying “hello,” you would say “hhhhhello.” This exercise helps to slow down your speech and can make it easier to articulate each sound.
Another exercise is “easy onsets,” where you gradually start each word, rather than jumping straight into it. For example, instead of saying “can I have a glass of water,” you would say “c-c-c-c-can I have a g-g-g-glass of water.” This technique can help reduce tension and anxiety when speaking.
When speaking, take a deep breath before starting and exhale slowly as you speak. This technique can help reduce the pressure and tension that often accompanies stuttering or stammering.
Another technique is diaphragmatic breathing, where you breathe from your diaphragm rather than your chest. This technique can help regulate your breathing and reduce tension in the chest and throat, making it easier to speak fluently.
Stress and anxiety can exacerbate stuttering or stammering. It is essential to identify and manage stressors in your life to reduce anxiety levels. Engaging in activities such as exercise, yoga, or meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety levels. Practicing mindfulness techniques can also help improve emotional regulation and reduce anxiety.
Positive self-talk can help improve self-esteem and confidence when speaking. It is essential to reframe negative thoughts and beliefs about stuttering and replace them with positive affirmations. For example, instead of thinking, “I am a terrible speaker,” replace it with “I am improving my speech skills every day.”
Remember that communication is the goal, not perfection. Striving for perfection can increase anxiety and make stuttering or stammering worse. Instead, focus on improving communication skills and making meaningful connections with others. Accept that stuttering or stammering may occur, and remember that it does not define you as a person.
Joining a support group can provide a sense of community and support for those with a stutter or stammer. These groups offer a safe space to practice speaking, discuss experiences, and share advice and tips. They often provide access to resources like books, pamphlets, and audio recordings that can help individuals better manage their symptoms at home. Members may have the opportunity to meet with experts in the field who can offer further insight into stuttering or other forms of dysfluency.
Helping a loved one who stutters or stammers
If you have a friend or family member who stutters, it is important to provide them with support and understanding. Here are a few ways you can support them as they progress towards speech fluency:
- Avoid finishing their sentences for them, as this can make it even harder for them to finish their thought.
- Give them plenty of time to speak. Try not to rush them when they are speaking; allow them the time they need in order to express themselves without feeling pressured.
- You may want to look into self-help groups that offer support and advice specifically tailored towards those dealing with disfluent speech.
- If your friend or family member is willing, practice activities like role-playing together in order for them to better manage their symptoms and improve their communication skills.
- Be willing to listen without judgment. They often feel embarrassed or anxious when they are speaking, so your patience and understanding can go a long way towards helping them feel more comfortable and confident.
Stuttering or stammering can be a challenging condition to manage. However, there are several effective ways to improve communication skills and reduce the its impact and achieve an improved quality of life.
If you need more help from a Speech-Language Pathologist, schedule a consultation with us. Together, we can explore the best treatment options available for you or your loved one.